If All Goes Wrong

Aaron Clift Experiment

Independent release, 2018

http://aaronclift.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/21/2018

On this Texas band’s most fully-realized work yet, If All Goes Wrong shows the Aaron Clift Experiment harnessing their prog tendencies with a hard rock edge and a more natural chemistry between the band honed from six years of live shows.

Where 2015’s Outer Light, Inner Darkness tended to meander, this third effort is tighter, harder, and more song-focused. Only two of the songs go beyond six minutes and the solos are never indulgent, serving the song instead of highlighting the player. Moreover, Clift (keyboards, vocals, co-songwriter) and Devin North (bass, co-songwriter) create a wealth of hooks and melodies that stick with the listener, as on the main riff in “Faith,” the chorus of “Dream Within A Dream.”

It’s an admirable effort, and even if every song doesn’t stick the landing, the majority of the disc is worth repeated listens, if only to discover the arrangements and layers that bubble to the surface with multiple listens. “Last Crash” packs a lot into its run time, showing a Smashing Pumpkins-esque grunge feel in the verses (after a spooky two-note bass riff introduces the piece) and then giving way to a necessary solo spot. The live version of the song is even better (it’s on YouTube).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Absent Lovers” and “Dream Within A Dream” are the longer pieces here, effortlessly moving between sections better than the similar songs on Outer Light. “Absent Lovers” is a bit reminiscent of King Crimson’s Islands era, with its medieval feel enhanced by a string quartet and a closing guitar solo. It should be noted that longtime guitarist Eric Gutierrez left the band after most of the album was written, so his guitar parts are played by a rotating cast of guest stars based in Austin.

“Wild Hunters” is an efficient three-minute rocker, leading into “If All Goes Wrong,” the emotional and musical climax of the disc. The track features a Mellotron (in 2018!), a killer closing guitar solo from Dave North, and it speaks to the need of having people in your life who will support you. If there’s any concept to the album, it’s that once can always find solace in relationships when religion, politics, and/or celebrities let us down. The “bonus track” on the CD, “Back To The Water,” is a lovely solo Clift piece looking back on a tough period in his life and the comfort he found on the beach where he lived at the time; it’s highly personal and, together with the epic title cut, closes the disc on a very strong note.

Both “Castle In The Sky” and “Savage In A Fancy Suit” are strong cuts as well, with the latter showing a Black Sabbath influence in the riffing and Clift’s affected growl, the opposite of his high-register wailing elsewhere. “Faith” is musically a strong opener but its tone-deaf lyrics about Christians – as well as the awkward moment after the chorus when the music drops out – render it less successful than the better songs here. However, the only real misfire on the 10 songs is “Better Off Before,” a departure from the traditional ACE sound and one they should never take again, inasmuch as it sounds like the theme from “Welcome Back, Kotter” mixed with the worst moments of the White Album. It’s too jaunty by half, although coming after “Absent Lovers,” it allows the listener to breathe for a moment.

Although the Experiment is billed as a progressive rock band, and lists bands like Marillion and Gentle Giant as influences, the band’s music is as dense and yet more accessible than that “prog” moniker suggests. Adding a full-time guitarist is probably the last piece of the puzzle because, with If All Goes Wrong, Clift and his band have made a statement…and it’s a darn good one.

Rating: B

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